Designer Đỗ Trịnh Hoài Nam will open Fashion Glam Couture show at Paris Fashion Week’s Haute Couture on January 23 at Town Hall in the 7th arrondissement. He will work alongside other designers in France, Switzerland, Slovakia and the US fashion industries to show his collection at the invitation of Marie Myriam Larriere, president of Createur Defile Styliste et Mode. Last September Nam presented his áo dài collection at the first catwalk event at the 26th Couture Fashion Week New York.
Born to traditional tailoring family in Xuân Đỉnh Village, North Từ Liêm District, Hà Nội, Nam entered the fashion industry after graduating from Hà Nội Industrial Fine Arts College. He won third prize at the 5th Việt Nam Fashion Competition and new material prize at Việt Nam Collection Grand Prix 2004. The designer also advanced to Mercedes Benz Asia Fashion Award’s final round.
Nguyễn Thúy Bình talks with Nam before left for the Paris fashion show.
This is the second time you are representing Việt Nam to show a collection at one of the most famous fashion weeks in the world. How do you feel?
Last year, I had a chance to showcase my áo dài (Vietnamese traditional long dress) collection at Couture Fashion Week New York. It was a good opportunity for me to introduce Vietnamese áo dài at the fashion week. I feel more than lucky to be invited to Fashion Glam Couture show early this year. I’m very happy. At the beginning I thought that I would design evening gowns which will make me confident enough to share the catwalk with world famous designers.
But I change my mind. I have become known not only in Việt Nam but also in other countries like France and Italy thanks to the áo dài. Thus, I decided to create an áo dài collection to combine Vietnamese and French cultures. I use patterns from the stained-glass windows at the Notre Dame Cathedral for the collection.
I want to introduce Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese fashion as well. Futhermore, I hope more Vietnamese designers will become known in the world.
New material, creative ideas or tailoring skills: which is the most important factor to determine the success of the collection?
I have to say that I think this collection is fate. In 2015, I initiated the idea for the áo dài collection to celebrate 20th year of my career. I developed the idea based on the design of Notre Dame Cathedral’s Gothic architecture.
At the Paris fashion show I will show the áo dài collection which has been made by hundreds of artisans from Kiêu Kỵ Gold Gilding Village and Thường Tín Embroidering Village. Both of the handicraft villages are on the outskirts of Hà Nội. I created the 30-design collection themed Women in Love on luxurious silk and satin from France and Italy.
Each design in my collection was made by Vietnamese artisans over a six-month period.
I think all factors are important, but the most important one is fabric because Fashion Glam Couture requires designs meet the criteria given by the French Designers Alliance. Under the criteria each design must be made from French or Italian fabrics with 300 hours of working.
Could you tell us what impressed you at the Couture Fashion Week New York?
First my impression is that the week is very professional. I had four hours to prepare for my show. The models were made-up to suit my collection theme. All team members know their mission thanks to a tight working schedule. I think Vietnamese fashion show directors should behave likewise to have a successful event.
You are among very few designers to do by yourself all steps of making clothes. In your opinion is it necessary for a designer to know basic skills in tailoring?
Besides creativity which builds a brand name, a designer also needs to know basic skills such as sewing and cutting. If he can do the basic steps well by himself he will be demanding of his employees. When I attend fashion training courses abroad participant designers including me learn to remake fashion collections by the world famous designers. All the world designers I have met and worked with know well the basic skills.
Could you tell us how you became a designer?
When I was small I saw a Mexican television drama entitled Simply Maria. I liked the main role - a tailor who became a famous designer. It is just a film but I discovered an idol and wanted to be a designer since then.
Factually, life was difficult in the past. But I always heard people around me saying that tailoring is one of the jobs whose practitioners will never go hungry. These jobs are tailoring and cooking. I thought about that seriously.
I like beautiful clothes so I decided to attend vocational classes with girl classmates during my high school years. We learned tailoring while all schoolboys learned electricity.
At that time, there were not materials for practice. I had to use paper bags and my parents’ very old working clothes for practice. That’s why I knew to sew by machine when I was a schoolboy. My parents bought for me a sewing machine and I began to earn money by myself. I was proud of it.
I became a tailor first because as a high-school boy I knew nothing about fashion. I finished my high school and became a tailor. In the early 1990s, karaoke singing was a new entertainment in Hà Nội and I thought I could earn a lot of money from this business. Unluckily, I went bankrupt. I was in shock and wanted to commit suicide.
But I survived from tailoring. I worked at the Chiến Thắng Tailoring Company and was one of the best tailors. I returned to my family’s traditional tailoring and decided to enroll in the Hà Nội Industrial Fine Arts College.
Are you a member of a professional association? Do you think it’s necessary to join such an association?
It requires a great deal of time to join a professional association abroad. Occasionally I have joined as a guest designer only in the associations in South Korea, France and Italy. In Việt Nam I don’t see strong performance from the professional associations. Hopefully, Vietnamese associations will connect Vietnamese designers to promote the fashion industry and co-operation with fashion associations in the world. It is very important because it will help Vietnamese designers update to the latest fashion technology and new trends as well.
I think that a successful designer not only has beautiful and creative designs but he needs to know about business and how to market his products. After my business trips abroad I see that foreign designers always design collections that focus on their customers first. Then they will develop the collection for performing on catwalk. — VNS